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Merlins - Match centre

Marlow Strollers
Maidenhead Merlins
Sat 17 Feb 15:00 - League Full time

Merlins 3 - 1 Marlow Strollers

Merlins win in local derby against Marlow

It was a glorious spring day; the air was warm, birds sang and the crowds gathered to watch the Merlins in their gleaming white battle the Marlow foe on their home astro turf. As usual the team gathered in silence has Captain St Noel allocated positions to players and
reverently delivered the pre-match words of inspiration: “pass to a player in white”, “don’t run into the tackle”, “midfield come back and defend”.

They say short term memory weakens with age and ordinarily ten seconds after the whistle, a typical Merlin would have clean forgotten what his Captain was going on about in the team talk. But this was no ordinary Merlins match. Today the Merlins played with purpose and the
opening spell of the game saw Merlins passing the ball to one another with confidence, such that Marlow had very little possession. Inspired by the strong back four of Marc ‘Mystic’ Jones, Colin ‘Citóg’ Byrne, Hans ‘Free’ Koppelman and Noel ‘Spud’ Murphy, Merlins played
a probing game, returning the ball to the back four whenever they found themselves down a blind alley in the opposing half.

It would never be appropriate to describe Merlin’s play as a ‘tactic’ but the result of the gameplay was that Marlow were stretched and denied the ball with which to display their undoubted stick and passing skills. As Marlow were drawn out of their half the youthful
Merlin’s forward line of Mahdi ‘M’ Hosany, Rhys ‘Motor Mouse’ Edwards and Kuljit Bhachu were able to get behind the defence. Quick passing opened up successive waves of attack.

It was not long before an excellent weaving run from left half saw Laurie Shotton enter the D and slice open the defence with an incisive pass that was pounced upon by Merlin’s forwards and sent past the keeper by Rhys ‘Motor Mouse’ Edwards.

Merlins had the better of the midfield and whenever the ball was won it was quickly dispatched down the right wing through George ‘Braveheart’ Wallace who had a memorable afternoon at right half, linking with Mahdi ‘M’ Hosany at right wing and tormenting the Marlow
backs with his pressing play. On the left, Shotton intercepted the Marlow play and controlled the ball through the left hand channel.

A second goal duly followed soon after but your reporter is unable to provide an account as he was spending one of several spells face down on the astro. Most of these resulted from Marlow kindly offering a wide open channel down the far, ice-rink side of the pitch down which he duly ran and fell. However, the fall preceding the second goal was due to an escaped rhinoceros charging across the defence, splaying the Merlin attack.

Some tranquilising shots from the umpire restored order but a goal had been scored and the first half ended soon after, at two - nil. At half time Captain St Noel preached to his Merry Merlins about pride and humility, the importance of concentration at the beginning of the
second half and the benefits of early nights and healthy living.

Merlins heard none of it. Marlow came out for the second half with fire and determination. Ronnie ‘the Cat’ Fuller found himself called upon to make a succession of goal-saving blocks from a Marlow attack that began to find holes in the tiring Merlin’s midfield. More than once did the Merlins have to rely on Marc ‘Mystic’ Jones to fend off the opposition in a one-on- one situation. The passes across the back four were more hurried and urgent clearances from Colin ‘Citóg’ Byrne and Hans ‘Free’ Koppelman gave the Merlins relief and much needed time.

But the pressure was not so great that Noel ‘Spud’ Murphy couldn’t find time for a little jig in the middle of the game. A pass from the central defence inspired him and his arms were as straight as his stick by his side whilst his right and left foot danced around the ball, astonishing the opposition with his deftness and energy. Finally, remembering where he was he hoofed the ball away with his left and resumed his role as the wall of defence.

Eventually the Marlow waves of attack led to the inevitable goal and the remainder of the game was a tense affair. It is not unknown for Merlins to have made so many chances and converted so few. A draw seemed a possibility. But Merlins continued to make effective use of the space in attack, particularly on the left hand side where Rhys ‘Motor Mouse’ Edwards and Bhachu increasingly called for the ball from excellent open positions. Hans ‘Free’ Koppelman repeatedly found them with extraordinarily precise long distance passing. Rob Newnham, returning after illness, had a brief but effective spell on the left, creating scoring opportunities on more than one occasion. A number of short corners were hit narrowly past left and right goals posts and Mahdi ‘M’ Hosany came close to extending his Merlin’s Hotshot campaign lead.

Late in the second half Rhys ‘Motor Mouse’ Edwards completed his hat-trick, gathering the ball from a poorly struck hit out, and Merlins could feel assured of a well-earned win in a closely fought contest. Luckily? Rhys had packed his wallet, so, Gary Edwards, who was able to do the jug honours in the clubhouse afterwards, nearly scored a goal himself from the narrowest of angles during his brief turn on the pitch.

A good Merlins turnout in the bar afterwards (well for all I know) to receive the generous Marlow hospitality and recount the famous victory. But the mood descended with the news that Hans ‘Free’ Koppelman is to leave the Merlins club. The hills of Berkshire are too great for the native Dutchman and he is moving somewhere flatter and closer to the land of his birth, only to return to Maidenhead when there is a guarantee of fellow countrymen in significant numbers.

Was this the reason why Hans played so well? A testimony for the Southern Counties Hockey Conference to remember the subtlety and skill of the last of the Merlin’s Dutch imports? Hans has been a dedicated core of the team for several seasons, rupturing his achilles away at Wimbledon (which resulted in his unwashed kit perfuming your reporter’s hallway for several weeks), and saving many a Merlins match both from defence and well taken goals. He will be greatly missed and our agents are vainly looking for a comparable replacement. Good luck Hans, you will always be a Merlin.

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